Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the library of King Ashurbanipal, the new Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, geographies of fear in antiquity, China’s Uighurs, alt-right New York, and more.

Designed by Danish architecture studio CEBRA, this twisting set of floating copper staircases are at the main entrance of Copenhagen’s new science and technology center, the Experimentarium. The design is an abstract version of a DNA strand’s composition. At over 300 feet long, the staircase includes 20,000 pounds of copper and 320,000 pounds of steel. More images and info at Colossal (via Colossal)

The Library was also famous in antiquity – centuries after Ashurbanipal’s death (and Assyria’s destruction), scribes in Babylonia celebrated the compilation of the Library. Perhaps these stories inspired the great libraries of the Greek world – such as the great Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

While many tablets have been found at other sites over the last 170 years, Ashurbanipal’s tablets remain our primary source for most of what we know about Mesopotamian scholarship of the time.

More than 1,500 pieces of Platner’s furniture have been restored, decades of varnish painstakingly stripped from paving tiles in the atrium to reveal their original dusky colors. Custom window latches, brass rails and leather-lined parapets are all shined, buffed and oiled.
I was reminded of Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum and Louis I. Kahn’s Yale Center for British Art when I saw the newly lighted, bush-hammered concrete stairwells tucked into the fins that jut from the 42nd Street facade.
The new Ford is a virtual reliquary of midcentury detail.

From Byzantine emperors to Abbasid Caliphs, rulers used the morphing Alexander legend as a means of striking fear into the heart of their constituency and casting themselves as their foretold savior. I have been thinking a lot about the use and abuse of this myth lately, as we see the invective and the actions against the “migrant caravan” heightened by the Trump Administration.

Although I have no power to intervene as either a diplomat or a soldier on behalf of the refugees currently waiting to be granted asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border, what I can point out is that geographies of fear––and the use of walls or gates to address them––are an synthetic and archaic trope often employed by autocrats. They empower them to use force and to galvanize their people through the creation of a scapegoat. Though Trump has chosen to associate himself with Lincoln and Reagan instead of Alexander the Great, we should still be wary of his demonizing of peoples who, like many in antiquity and today, simply strive for sanctuary.

It wasn’t until the New York Times published its blockbuster report that detailed the inner workings of an alleged smear campaign to deflect criticism of Facebook from progressive activists that the string of unfamiliar threats added up. The bombshell exposé claimed Facebook hired the Republican opposition-research firm, Definers Public Affairs, to smear anti-Facebook protestors as anti-Semitic, while simultaneously scapegoating anti-Facebook groups — like Color of Change — as under the control of Soros, a common right-wing refrain that reeks of anti-Semitism.

“No, we didn’t know about Definers prior to the New York Times report,” Robinson said. “It makes so much sense now, and it also shows me how effective and how much the pushing we have been doing and challenging and calling out Facebook and running campaigns and sitting at the table with them had gotten under Facebook’s skin.”

China’s booming box office and seemingly inexhaustible cash reserves have provided a much-needed boost to Hollywood as it faces slowing ticket sales in the United States and challenges from Amazon and Netflix.
But Hollywood’s embrace of China has not come without strings attached.
So when the creators of “Pixels” wanted to show aliens blasting a hole in the Great Wall of China, Sony executives worried that the scene might prevent the 2015 movie’s release in China, leaked studio emails show. They blew up the Taj Mahal instead.
In the 1960s, Marvel Comics introduced a mystical guru character known as the Ancient One into its universe. He was portrayed as an elderly Tibetan man.
But in the 2016 movie “Doctor Strange,” the Ancient One is Celtic, played by the white actress Tilda Swinton. Moviemakers decided to change the character’s ethnicity early in the process, reportedly to avoid offending the Chinese government.

“Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”

These chilling words are stated in an internal document, reported by news agency AFP, and encapsulate Beijing’s policy towards its ethnic Uighur minority. At the United Nations Human Rights Council, Beijing rejected criticism of its practice of interring ethnic Uighurs in indoctrination camps in the Xinjiang province as “politically driven”.

But accounts from exiled Uighurs and Xinjiang scholars point to one chilling fact: those internment camps – hidden from view except to satellites far above – represent one of the more visible planks of an overarching attack on Uighurs.

Here is a list of some of the Uighur intellectuals already arrested.

I had encountered neo-Nazis before. They lurk on the fringes of every punk scene, kept at bay only by violence. But the alt-right movement, though no less contemptible, was different from the old guard of self-serious skinheads and Nazi costume players. Their podcasts sounded like my dorky high school lunch table, with many of the same jokes repeated verbatim. These were not historical reenactors. They were the kind of ordinary guys I grew up with in a downwardly mobile, opioid-soaked, white-flight wasteland. I could picture my old friends, numbing themselves to the banal brutality of the world with liquor and gallows humor, enraged at having been fucked out of a quality of life their parents had known, which itself wasn’t that great to start. Now they are getting mad as hell, and who is helping them give their problems a name?

That was the moment that really helped crystalize for me the blackness of Jonestown. Peoples Temple was a hugely influential part of black San Francisco at one time, embedded so deeply that middle schoolers like my mom took time to check it out. On some level, I knew this intuitively, that some hulking part of the community I had grown up in had been scarred by this infamous American tragedy. For years, I’d heard vague stories, about aunties and cousins who went off to Guyana and disappeared. But, over the past year, the more I asked people in my community about Jonestown and Peoples Temple, the more I came to understand how close it still is to the surface of everyday life in the Fillmore, even decades later. One person remembered being hospitalized as a kid in the same unit as a young member of Peoples Temple, and becoming pen pals with a person who had come to visit the bed-stricken churchgoer. My high school English teacher taught creative writing to Temple children and later published a book featuring the students’ work.

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Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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